Turning research into art

UF prof transforms data into vivid imagery

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For over a decade University of Florida Professor Andy Kane has been a student of aquatic pathobiology, researching the diseases that plague sea life in his role studying environmental and global health.

That task made him a fixture for several years in Apalachicola Bay, as he worked closely with watermen to understand what it was that was depleting the oyster reefs and wreaking havoc on the productivity of the industry.

Then along came COVID-19 and much of the hands-on teaching and direct field work was curtailed, and so he took the time to approach his work from a different angle, creating what he calls “an assemblage of visual data that comes together to tell a story.”

He gathered his photos, his samples of diseased oyster shells, his charts, and put together a gallery piece that would drive home the point to those throughout the state and country who are far less familiar with the details of what the bay has been going through.

“I thought maybe artwork would offer another opportunity to see information in a different perspective,” he said. “I wanted to provide that experience to understand environmental change and the disappearance of Apalachicola oysters.”

The exhibit, which requires almost 45 to 60 linear feet of space, went up in December and ran until last month at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. It is now destined for exhibit space at the University of Florida campus, and perhaps eventually in Tallahassee. Kane has reached out to State Sen. Loranne Ausley to see if the exhibit might find a spot in the capital city where legislators and the general public could view it.

“You don't have to be a scientist. We got feedback from different audiences, from other parts of the country because a lot of people have very serious questions,” said Kane. “This is meant to be an eye opener. There's no surprise in this ‘visual eye candy.’”

The exhibit opens with peering through a portal that shows a time, not long ago, when the oyster reefs thrived, with a highly productive and biologically diverse waterscape of fishes, crabs, mussels and encrusting organisms. And then the exhibit offers a detailed look at how that has changed.

“I did this to save my sanity,” he said’ “We use real pictures, and actually framed the data, all in large formats.

“This is the face of climate change. There's nothing magic; this is the state of reality and how the oyster reacts to that,” Kane said. “We’re not waving fingers. I hope that this could lead to more data-driven management. 

“We don’t need more data,” he said. “We need to educate people on environmental literacy that people can trust. Or at least have a discussion of what we need, what we see and what we value.”

Andy Kane, climate change, University of Florida

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